Have you heard about the “Chinese” dish called Chicken Manchurian? Because people in China haven’t!

Published: November 24, 2017
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Chinese food, being one of the most popular cuisines in the world, is always a treat to have. PHOTO: SHAHID WAFA

Pakistan is known for its desi-flavour infused Chinese dishes. Chicken Manchurian is a popular dish in Pakistan but funnily enough, people living in China have never heard of it, let alone consume it.

This came as a surprise to me when I was visiting Beijing, China for a documentary shoot. My hosts from China Central Television took great care of my needs, including my meals and accommodation. At the end of the first day, when we were sitting in a halal restaurant in Beijing, my hosts asked me if I had a specific dish I wanted to have for my dinner. Since the menu card was written in Chinese, one of my team members assisted me in selecting the dishes.

The halal restaurant

Like many other Pakistanis, I like Chinese food so I immediately asked for good old Chicken Manchurian. To my surprise, the response I received was “what?”, combined with a puzzled expression from the waitress.

My first thought was perhaps it’s pronounced differently here or they had a hard time understanding my accent. So I tried to make my accent sound a bit Chinese and uttered in a rather ridiculous way,

Manchurian, Chicken Manchurian.”

She shook her head while going through the menu and replied,

“Sir, there is no such dish available here.”

I thought to myself that maybe this particular restaurant was not serving the dish.

“You don’t serve the dish but you must have eaten it?” I asked, wanting to see their reactions.

The response I got amazed me again. None of them had ever tasted or even heard of the dish before. But then suddenly a thought came to my mind, that perhaps the dish goes by a different name here. Compelled with my reporting instincts, I started describing the look, taste and the peculiar way of its presentation on the table. But at the end of that short portrayal, I was presented with the same expressionless faces of my hosts.

China is a huge and diverse country. People from different areas in the country have variation in their language, traditions, cuisine and eating habits. Our team comprised of more than 10 people – most of them belonged to different provinces of China and yet nobody showed any familiarity with the dish known as Chicken Manchurian in Pakistan. This was unbelievable.

I got the same reaction when I asked them about another famous “Chinese” dish in Pakistan called Shashlik. Surprised and given up, I decided to rely upon the recommendations of my hosts.

Griddled Cooked Okra

I was aware of the fact that certain Chinese dishes we commonly eat in Pakistan are modified to suit our taste, but I had no knowledge that a famous dish in Pakistan like Chicken Manchurian was absent from menus in China. This led me to do a quick search on Google regarding this dilemma. I found out that Chicken Manchurian was invented by an Indian chef of Chinese descent, Nelson Wang, in 1983, who termed his cuisine as Indo-Chinese.

The word “Indo-Chinese” intrigued me and upon further research, I discovered that due to immense popularity of Chinese cuisine around the world, various countries have invented their own version of the dishes since these dishes were nowhere to be found or heard of in China.

Sautéed Dice Beef in Black Pepper Sauce

In another instance, during dinner with my Chinese friends, I decided to share the names of Chinese restaurants in Lahore since I was curious to know what they meant. It turned out that the names of most of the restaurants in Lahore had no connection to China or their language whatsoever. My generous Chinese hosts listened to those names with expressionless faces and I had no choice but to infer that most of the restaurant owners in Lahore had randomly coined Chinese sounding words and used them as names for their restaurants. This situation left me appreciating the “innovative” entrepreneurial skills of my country men and decided to not discuss this matter any further.

Another misconception we have in Pakistan about Chinese food is that people in China mostly eat bland food with hardly any spices and their food is usually boiled. On the contrary, during my 10-day trip there, I came across numerous dishes that were not only deep-fried but fiery hot as well. The dishes that were relatively less spicy were served with sidelines and sauces to complement the flavours.

Stewed Beef

BBQ

Hence, I came to know about the diversity in Chinese dishes, which originated from China but had been modified in our country according to our liking.

One may wonder which food is better in taste – Indo-Chinese cuisine, the Chinese cuisine served in Pakistan, or the authentic Chinese cuisine which is consumed in China. Since I have tasted both, I can claim that authentic dishes are way tastier than those we eat in Pakistan under the guise of Chinese food.

Clams

In China, one finds a great variety of dishes and every dish has a distinct taste, aroma, style and presentation, and this is the main difference between authentic and Pakistani Chinese. Here in Pakistan, regular “Chinese” restaurants serve a very limited range of dishes and those few dishes also prove to be a variant of each other with similar taste and style.

Hot Pot

Chinese food, no doubt, is one of the most popular cuisines of the world. On the basis of my first-hand experience, I am confident that if authentic Chinese cuisine is introduced in Pakistan, it will gain more popularity than the cuisine average Chinese restaurants offer here.

All photos: Shahid Wafa 

Shahid Wafa

Shahid Wafa

The author is a Lahore based broadcast journalist who currently works at Ptv as a News Producer and Reporter. He regularly covers issues of social, political and judicial importance. He tweets as @shahidobserves (twitter.com/shahidobserves)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • 19640909rk .

    Chinese dishes have aroma and taste so different, i almost fainted first time I tasted Chinese food. Anyways, I love Chinese food.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Lot of truth in that …… interesting read.Recommend

  • Aysh Candy

    But these dishes in the post are so bad looking m about to puke..Recommend

  • Patwari

    China is a huge, vast country, with provincial, regional, local cuisines/dishes.
    They speak, God knows, how many languages, dialects, sub dialects etc.
    Same goes for their food dishes, cooking techniques, styles, ingredients, spices etc.
    In the US they have Moo Goo Gai Pan. A very famous chicken dish found
    in just about any Chinese restaurant worth it’s salt. It was created for Americans
    taste by Chinese cooks in US. No one heard of it in China, or England or France.
    A Cordon Bleu chef created a Chinese dish called Fengtai Chicken.
    A Hungarian chef, very well known, created Dongcheng Chicken.
    A British chef from the James Beard culinary school created Xicheng Chicken.
    Well known, or maybe not, in their respective countries/regions/cities.
    Nobody knows what these dishes are….. in China.Recommend

  • Mihir

    Chicken Manchurian, Chicken Shashlik, 65, Drumsticks, etc are Subcontinental derivatives of Chinese food not authentic.Recommend

  • Amir Najam Sethit

    Reading this blog, i want to taste chicken Chinese dish..interesting blog..Recommend

  • Ali Baba

    Hmmm….Im not sure about Manchurian. China is a big country…. Last month….. In Taiwan… My Taiwanee freind ……belongs to Chinese Hakka tribes took me to traditional resturant…. Where i prepared a hebal tea in very special way… I posted video on facebook and recieved a comment from a chines business freind… ” what’s this …Im Chinese and I dont know about it… ”
    He really didnt know about that untill i sent Wikipedia page that describes ….this tea …..is being consumed by Hakka tribes in china for centuries…….Recommend